The Extra Pass: Recapping the 2014 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference

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The MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference was held in Boston this past weekend, the eighth in an annual series intended to bring the sports world and the advanced statistics community together to discuss common areas where the two fields can share and benefit from an increasingly abundant amount of raw data that measures athletes performing at the highest levels.

There were plenty of panel discussions and research presentations attended, so here’s a summary of the highlights of what went down over the two-day experience.

– Tanking and the draft that seems to incentivize it were ongoing topics at the conference, and on the basketball analytics panel Friday, Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo admitted to trying to tank for a high draft pick a couple of seasons ago. However, he wasn’t exactly able to achieve his desired result.

– One of the more interesting and honest discussions came on a negotiation panel that featured a professor from the Harvard Business School moderating a talk between Rockets GM Daryl Morey and Warriors GM Bob Myers. The two NBA men were very open in discussing their personal shortcomings where negotiations are concerned, and Morey and Myers shared some unique inside information on how the Dwight Howard free agent frenzy last summer affected each of their respective franchises. (Hint: It caused Morey to actually call up Mark Cuban to try to trade for Dirk Nowitzki.)

– The most interesting research paper presented from a basketball perspective may have been the one to address the Hot Hand theory, which has been widely debunked in the past. The new research took into account information from SportVU cameras that wasn’t available to previous researchers, and the conclusion was that the Hot Hand does in fact exist, and that players believe in it and act accordingly. Perhaps not surprisingly, J.R. Smith was one of the textbook examples.

– Not everyone at the conference was 100 percent on board with advanced statistical data and its immediate implementation, at least not without first evaluating who exactly is putting it all together. Stan Van Gundy was amazing on the basketball analytics panel, and explained frankly and in detail why the data may not mean much to those actually running the team from a basketball standpoint if it’s only being assembled by statisticians, as opposed to those who are highly experienced in the game itself.

– NBA Commissioner Adam Silver appeared at the conference on Saturday, and had an extended conversation with Malcolm Gladwell about a variety of topics. The draft lottery system and the perceived issue of tanking were among the more interesting, and while Silver continues to define tanking differently than the rest of us, he at least appears to be very open to looking at ways of changing things so that losing, in any capacity, won’t be at all incentivized in the future.

Aging Pelicans’ owner couldn’t remember Anthony Davis’ name in deposition

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Tom Benson, the now 90-year-old owner of the New Orleans Pelicans and the NFL’s Saints, a few years back changed around the succession of control of the team after his passing — his wife Gayle will take control. Rita Benson LeBlanc, Benson’s granddaughter and former handpicked successor, sued saying Benson had been manipulated. After meeting privately with Benson, a judge ruled that while Benson suffered some “cognitive impairment” he was capable of making his own decisions and that Gayle remained the successor.

Benson has been sued multiple times since then, including by former Saints employee Rodney Henry, and the then-89-year-old Benson was deposed in that case last year.

Someone broke the gag order and sent a copy of the deposition to The Advocate of New Orleans, and it shows that Benson’s mental acuity is fading. He couldn’t remember who Anthony Davis was by name.

During another set of questions, apparently aimed at establishing how close Benson and Henry had been, Benson was shown a photo of the two men with Pelicans star Anthony Davis.

“Who is this?” Williams asked.

“It’s Rodney and a basketball player,” Benson said. “Oh, hell, I forget his name. Let me — he’s a great player for us. Tell me his name, and I will tell you yes or no.”

When asked “is it Anthony Davis,” Benson said yes. The man is 90, I’m not sure that we should expect much. He had the foresight to bring in people to run his businesses — including his sports teams — and set up a line of succession for when he does pass. Smart moves.

Would Benson’s mental state impact potential changes coming to the Pelicans? Probably not. New Orleans’ GM Dell Demps bet big on going big in a league trending smaller, pairing Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. If that doesn’t work out, plenty of people around the league expect a house cleaning on the basketball side with the Pelicans. Benson’s mental state, whatever it may be, does not impact that.

The deposition leak came from an anonymous source (and anonymous email account, the paper verified the document before publishing). Who leaked it? It may be nearly impossible to find out, but only one side benefits from all this becoming public. And it’s not Benson.

K.J. McDaniels signs with Raptors for camp, can he make roster?

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A few years back in Philadelphia, the athletic K.J. McDaniels was a highlight factory and looked like a guy who could develop into a role player on the wing in the NBA.

Except, he never actually developed. Houston gave him a chance (three years at a total of $10 million), and it didn’t work out, then last season Brooklyn had him for 20 games, but they decided to move on.

Now Toronto is going to give him a chance, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

McDaniels’ agent later confirmed the news. This is a training camp, make-good contract for McDaniels. But unlike a lot of those contracts being handed out around this time, there is space on the Raptors roster for a player or two.

McDaniels will compete with Alfonzo McKinnie, Kennedy Meeks, and Kyle Wiltjer for one of the final roster spots in Toronto. Of that group, I’d most likely want to keep McDaniels because of the shot blocking and his potential — but his outside shot has to improve.

The Raptors can carry 15 on the roster and very possibly will until at least Jan. 10, which is the date these partially guaranteed deals become fully guaranteed for the season. Toronto is flirting with the tax line, and ownership is not going to want to pay the tax for this team, so if they do carry 15 they likely will cut it to 14 by that date.

Watch James Harden do the #DriveByDunkChallenge from a speed boat (VIDEO)

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The #DriveByDunkChallenge has been a fun distraction this summer. If you don’t know what it is, it essentially involves NBA players jumping out of their cars to dunk on regular folks on community basketball hoops.

Players like Boston Celtics wing Jaylen Brown have led the charge in the social media video fad, and now it appears that Houston Rockets guard James Harden is setting a new trend.

That trend? Doing the #DriveByDunkChallenge from dang boat.

Yup, seriously.

Via Twitter:

I can’t think of anything more baller than dunking on somebody from a speed boat, so congrats to Harden for winning the NBA offseason.

Photoshop no more: here’s Gordon Hayward in a Boston Celtics uniform (PHOTO)

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I suppose it will take some time to get used to seeing Gordon Hayward in a Boston Celtics jersey. This photo is the first step on that journey.

In a photo posted to Hayward’s Instagram on Wednesday, many of us got our first look at the former Utah Jazz forward in his new digs.

Specifically, the new Celtics Nike jersey in green with the GE patch on the left shoulder.

Via Instagram:

🍀🔥

A post shared by @gdhayward on

There are still some serious doubts about whether the Celtics will be able to unseat the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference, but perhaps they won’t need to wait for long. Rumors are starting to trickle in about LeBron James leaving Ohio, so maybe by the time we are used to seeing Hayward in Celtics green next season they will have less competition out east.